The genetic code in our cells plays a crucial role in instructing our bodies on how to produce the proteins necessary for survival. Over time, small modifications, known as epigenetic changes, act as ‘genetic switches’, influencing how our cells interpret these instructions without altering the genetic code itself. The accumulation of these modifications is often used to gauge the biological age of our cells and tissues.

A team of researchers in Lithuania conducted a study to investigate the fluctuations in epigenetic changes throughout the day. They collected multiple blood samples from a 52-year-old man every three hours over a period of 72 hours. The samples were analyzed for 17 different epigenetic clocks present in the collection of white cells. Surprisingly, they discovered that 13 of the 17 epigenetic clocks exhibited significant variations throughout the day. These changes indicated that the cells appeared ‘younger’ in the early morning hours and ‘older’ around midday, with differences in age equivalent to approximately 5.5 years.

The findings of this study challenge the conventional approach of using a single tissue sample to determine epigenetic age. The researchers noted that relying on one sample at a specific time of day may not provide a comprehensive understanding of the individual’s cellular age. While studying a single individual’s samples allowed for a focused analysis, it limited the ability to generalize the results across a larger population.

Previous research had shown that white blood cell subtype counts and proportions exhibit a 24-hour periodicity, impacting the accuracy of epigenetic tests using whole blood as the tissue of interest. In the recent study, even when the researchers focused on a single type of white blood cell, they observed age fluctuations. This suggests that the fluctuation in cellular age may not solely be attributed to the variations in white blood cell types over the course of the day.

To obtain a more precise and comprehensive understanding of cellular age, scientists may need to consider taking multiple samples at different times of the day. This approach could provide a more accurate depiction of how old the cells truly are. Additionally, a more thorough assessment of the epigenetic age range could enhance the ability to predict the risk of age-related diseases in populations.

The study from Lithuania highlights the dynamic nature of epigenetic changes throughout the day and the importance of considering these fluctuations in aging studies. By incorporating multiple samples at varied times of the day, researchers can obtain a more detailed and accurate assessment of cellular age. This, in turn, may lead to improved predictions regarding the risk of age-related diseases in populations.

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